The jaw bone is what holds our teeth in place. If we lose a tooth either because of gum disease or decay, the jaw bone will begin to recede. Why is this an issue? The jaw bone needs to remain intact in order to replace the missing tooth with an implant, denture, or partial. Bone grafting is often a necessary procedure that has to occur prior to dental implant placement. It’s a routine procedure that can be carried out in a dentist’s office.

Because dental implants are anchored directly into the jaw bone, it is vital that they are placed into a healthy and sufficient area of bone mass. If the replacement tooth is implanted into an area of your jaw that does not have the right amount of bone density, the implant may become loose or the surrounding bone tissue won’t grow around the titanium implant, which is absolutely necessary for the implant to be successful. The issue that we run into here is that when we lose a tooth, the surrounding bone tissue that once supported the tooth root starts to erode. This is a natural occurrence that can diminish up to 40% of the facial bone tissue within the first year. Unless you choose to replace the tooth as quickly as possible, you will inevitably suffer bone loss.

If necessary, bone can be removed from one area and replaced, or grafted, into another area to correct cosmetic or functional defects in the mouth, or to aid in the placement of dental implants. Bone for a graft is often taken from within the mouth while preparing for the implant placement. The bone may also be taken from the chin, third molar (wisdom tooth) region, or upper jaw. For more extensive procedures, the hip or knee may serve as donor sites. Although bone is usually taken from the patient’s own body, alternate sources may be recommended such as synthetic bone material.

If a tooth has been missing for a while, then the bone may have already resorbed (the act of being removed [cells, or a tissue or structure] by gradual breakdown into its component materials and dispersal in the circulation). If this is the case, your dentist will need to replace a larger bony defect. Your dentist can use a combination of materials to build up the jaw bone, including your own bone, freeze-dried bone taken from someone else, an animal bone, or a synthetic bone substitute. The type of bone graft that is completed will be determined by the patient’s current condition.

The graft creates a framework that can be compared to scaffolding, so that the bone graft can attach and generate new bone cells. The amount of time it takes to heal depends on how much bone grafting is needed, how many areas are involved, and the overall health of the area. Once the area has completely healed, your dentist will be able to place the implant, denture, or partial in the vacant area and restore your smile.